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Arbor Low Stone Circle

/images/arborlowstonecircle.jpgDescribed by English Heritage as “the most important prehistoric site in the region”, Arbor Low does not feature as prominently in the public consciousness as, say, Stonehenge or Avebury and yet, standing within its banked enclosure, you will find it every bit as atmospheric.

Arbor Low is to be found just off a road known as Long Rake, above the village of Middleton-by-Youlgreave.  For full atmospheric effect, you may want to arrive on foot, incorporating your visit into one of the many walks around Youlgreave, Middleton or Monyash; it is not very far off The Limestone Way, for example, while the High Peak Trail passes within less than half a mile, (superb for traffic-free cycling).  The entrance is through a private farmyard and the farmer charges a small fee for access, though the site itself is owned by English Heritage.

Perhaps one reason for its low profile is the fact that all the forty-odd stones are lying down.  It had long been presumed that zealous Christians of an earlier era had toppled them, (but why, then, did they not break up and reuse the stones in walls and buildings, as happened to many at Avebury?)  Recent examinations have revealed no holes in which they might have stood and they lie in almost perfect formation, suggesting that they may well have always been this way.

The stones lie within an earth-banked enclosure and date from the late stone age, though, like many Peak District sites of this antiquity, it would have been in use through the bronze age also.  The circular bank itself does give a sense of being within a sacred space or building.  The burial mound set into the eastern side of the bank is the best place to get an overview of the site and to take photographs - part of the enigma of Arbor Low is the difficulty of being able to stand anywhere and get the whole ring of stones within your viewfinder.

Some people have said Arbor Low resembles a large clock face and it is interesting to speculate whether they may not have a point, as many such monuments were part sacred temple, part astrological timepiece for keeping track of the seasons.  Perhaps one of the stones was once upright, much like a giant sundial.

Certainly, the builders chose an imposing location.  Standing on a prominent if flat-ish hill at 1,230 feet, it commands panoramic views of the surrounding limestone plateau.  It is not hard to imagine stone and bronze age folk trailing up the slopes, perhaps with sacrificial animals, or gathering here at the winter solstice to await the return of the sun.  Try to visit on a clear day to really appreciate the scenery; the close-cropped turf is a great green carpet for a picnic.

Be sure to do the very short triangular walk up to Gib Hill, just across the field.  This is not a natural hill but a burial mound associated with the site and of quite an impressive size.  It was excavated in the 19th Century and found to contain a burial urn with bronze age bones, all of which are now to be seen in Sheffield City Museum.  The name Gib Hill comes from its later use as a place for public hanging, but don’t let such gruesome thoughts spoil your enjoyment of the surrounding landscape.